Friday, July 21, 2006

Lebanon

Obviously, a lot of people in the blogosphere are talking about the tragic situation in Lebanon. I generally don't discuss this sort of thing on my blog, but I feel compelled because for me there is a personal connection to what is happening there.

My stepfather, who has been more of a father to me than my biological father for the past 20 years, is from Lebanon. He and his family, who are Christian, began immigrating to the United States in the late-70s, with the outbreak of the civil war. My "Tayta" (I have no idea how to spell that, but it's the word for grandma) was the first in the family to immigrate to the United States. She left her husband, six children, and a handful of grandchildren, to come to her brother, who had immigrated to the States years before. She spoke no English, but she learned enough to take and pass her test for United States citizenship. And then, slowly, over the course of 15 years, she worked to bring her family to join her. My stepfather came in 1980. He had been in the militia. He came with his brother, a teenager who wanted to fight but who was made to come to America instead. They, too, are United States Citizens. Following them came their sisters and their older brothers with their wives and children.

Growing up "culturally Lebanese" from the age of 12 (for lack of a better way to characterize my position), it strikes me how little we in the West know about the history of this country and the different agendas that are played out on Lebanese soil. I spent my teens hearing about the Ottoman Empire in Lebanon, how France had colonized Lebanon, how Lebanon gained its independence in 1943, about the different religious factions that sought to control the country - Orthodox, or Maronite, or Shi'a, or Druze, to name just a few of them, because this is a lot more complicated than the Christian-Muslim-Jewish trifecta - and about the political agendas of various countries that surround Lebanon. I heard all about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in ways that were much more complicated (and utterly confusing) than in the ways I'd heard about it in classes in school. And I heard about how Beirut had been this amazing capital - "The Paris of the Middle East" - before the war and how it wasn't just a place where terrorists hung out.

Over the past week or so, in listening to and watching as much news as I can stomach about what's happening there - which admittedly is not very much - there seems to be so little context provided that there's no way that somebody without a personal connection to Lebanon and its people could possibly navigate the information provided to sift through it and to make sense of it. When we hear the talking heads talk about Islamic Fascism, for example, I suspect that for the majority of us we think about the fascism of Hitler or Mussolini or Stalin - the fascism of organized nation-states with recognizable leaders - and if we hear about this in the context of Lebanon, I suspect that many of us might logically conclude that Lebanon is a fascist country, that Lebanon = Hezbollah. We don't hear about the roots of all of this conflict in a history of colonialism. We don't hear about the ways in which the West is at the very least complicit in this conflict, if not a cause. We don't hear about the structure of different governments in the middle east, nor do we get much context about the current situation. We get film of refugees; we get talking heads supposing things about policy decisions that the United States might make. At least on the major news stations (NPR, the cable networks, the nightly news, etc.). Again, I'm not saying I've seen every bit of coverage, and I have not been looking at deeper news coverage that may be appearing elsewhere. The reason I comment anyway is that I suspect most of America is seeing about as much, or less, news coverage than I am.

When we hear about the action that Israel is taking in bombing Lebanon, we may see their position as identical to ours in going into Afghanistan or into Iraq, and depending on our politics, we may believe that Israel's action is justified or justifiable or even right. Or, whatever we think of Israel's justafiability, we might think that getting Hezbollah out of Lebanon is a good thing for the country, for the region. Or we might wonder why the US isn't doing more to stop what's happening. Whatever.

I don't know what to think. I know that I've got family (an aunt, two cousins, their husbands and children) who are trapped in Lebanon right now. I know that my uncle's best friend from childhood was killed. I know that my Tayta is watching the news constantly, calling my stepfather at the store during the day to talk to him about what she's seeing.

I get Israel's position, and I get Hezbollah's position, and I get the Christian-Lebanese position, and I get the US position. And you know, at the end of the day, people are going to keep making decisions that are about power and control, and people are going to keep dying in the service of political agendas. I think that's the long and the short of it, and I'm not sure whether anything anyone can say will make a difference in that.

6 comments:

New Kid on the Hallway said...

As someone who has no personal connection to Lebanon, I will say that I find the whole thing as presented in the news completely baffling. And terrible. I hope that your family stays well!

Dr. Crazy said...

No need to worry, NK, I think everybody should be fine. It's still scary, though, you know?

Barry said...

I'm not sure if you get the BBC at all, but they're actually good at suggesting a degree of complicity between the West (well, the USA at least) and Israel, because it serves the USA political interests to have Israel as a force against those nasty A-rabs and Islamist fascists. Never mind that the Israeli response is looking rather more like overkill, and that the soldier taken by the Palestinians (which seems to have been the latest trigger) was actually across the border in Palestine. Its a provocitive stance, I know, but I am having a lot of trouble sorting out the difference betwen Isreal and terrorists. Even here, remote from the conflict, I'm dead worried that the pressure Israel is putting on its neighbours will provoke a more radical response from the less radical Islamic nations and organisations, because then the call will come to the west to support Israel.

JustMe said...

this is what pisses me off about "news" -- lack of context and totally simplistic. they also ignore, so we do too, the lives that are being destroyed...
i pray for your family...

reatita said...

Hello -
i was surfing and ended up here...
since you guys are talking about a context, i found this video about Peace, Propaganda & The Promised Land - It is not much about Lebanon but more about how media deals with the middle eastern issues. http://video.google.ca/videoplay?docid=-78281237143849206961

Rate Your Students said...

we read your column religiously, that is to say, on our knees...

http://rateyourstudents.blogspot.com

Kisses,
RYS